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Watermelon-smashing comic Gallagher brings latest tour to Savannah

 

Watermelon-smashing comic Gallagher brings latest tour to Savannah

10 Oct 2017

It took a genius to realize people would not only pay to have food splattered all over them, they’d also stand in line to buy tickets for it.

“I knew people like to have fun and I knew that was fun,” the comedian Gallagher says. “Now we have splash rides at amusement parks, the Blue Man Group, the Insane Clown Posse. I really think the mosh pit where the kids jump out over the audience is an extension of my idea.”

Born Leo Anthony Gallagher Jr. in 1946, the comedian goes by only his last name professionally. He’s bringing his “Gallagher: The Last Smash” tour to Savannah on Oct. 14 at the Bay Street Theatre.

Best known for such props as the Sledge-O-Matic, a large wooden mallet used to smash food and other objects, and a trampoline made to look like a giant sofa, Gallagher says he learned what was fun while growing up.

“My dad owned a skating rink, so I saw people having fun,” he says. “I thought theaters were boring, similar to going to Grandma’s house where you might hit a table with a vase on it. If you walk in most theater lobbies, there is usually a table with a vase on it. I wanted to have more fun with theaters.”

Science vs. comedy

Although his act became a resounding success, Gallagher had no plans to be an entertainer, not even after he created the concept of the Sledge-O-Matic.

“I didn’t want be a comedian, so I sent the routine to George Carlin and Albert Brooks,” Gallagher says. “George wrote back and said he wrote all his own material. Albert never got back to me.”

The reason Gallagher didn’t want to do the act himself?

“I’m a chemist,” he says. “I wanted to be a scientist, I didn’t want to be a comedian. If I had a career as a scientist, I couldn’t have people saying, ‘You can’t trust a guy who was a comedian.’”

In 1970, Gallagher graduated from the University of South Florida with a chemical engineering degree and a minor in English literature. But after working in a manufacturing plant as a chemist, he became involved in show business as the road manager for singer/comedian Jim Stafford.

“I worked with Jim for five years, when I was 25 through 29,” Gallagher says. “I could come up with ideas for jokes and songs and he would do them on stage.”

Though he’d appeared on “The Mike Douglas Show” at 25, it wasn’t until age 30 when Gallagher finally decided to take a shot at show business.

“Through Kenny Rogers’ manager, I got a deal to open for Kenny for 100 shows,” he says. “I went from nothing — I really had no experience on stage — to being the opening act in the largest auditorium in America.

“We were there to open the Reunion Center in Dallas, Texas, on Mother’s Day, and Kenny’s mother was coming into town. I told a joke about the Iranians, who had recently taken our people at an embassy hostage, and nobody liked it.

“I almost lost 100 dates because I did that one joke,” Gallagher says. “And it wasn’t even an original joke.”

There came a time for Gallagher to earn his own way.

“After I’d done a year with Kenny, I did it on my own,” Gallagher says. “I never had an agent or a manager.

“Lucky for me, the cable industry was just starting. They wanted product and would leave you alone. It was good that I waited five years to start my career.”

Making minds smile

Although fans might say Gallagher has established a strong, enduring legacy, he doesn’t always agree.

“I’m concerned comedians didn’t learn anything from me,” he says. “They just stand in front of the microphone, they don’t use color or props or costumes and continue to tell their little stories and have no dynamics to their shows.

“Kevin James and Kevin Hart both made one-hour shows with dark clothing in front of dark screens. That’s a misuse of the medium.”

Despite Gallagher’s popularity, few other comedians took to prop comedy.

“I had 14 one-hour specials in the ’80s,” Gallagher says. “You would think in this copycat industry they would copy me, but the only one who did was Carrot Top.”

Still wildly creative today, Gallagher continues to seek out new ideas, although he doesn’t always have success promoting them.

“The main focus of my life is to plant the seeds of my ideas in fertile soil,” he says. “I even recorded a song to help promote ideas.

“I know these are good ideas, but it’s like the world only wants me to smash watermelons. It’s crazy. I guess they don’t know I’m a deeper pond.”

The creativity extends to comedy, too.

“I don’t have any writer’s block,” Gallagher says. “I’m finding humor in the human condition.

“I take a scientific mind to entertainment. I’m the smartest guy ever dumb enough to want to be a comedian. I like to make people’s minds smile.”

‘Comedy on the Road’

Gallagher is always on tour and his act is never scripted. Opening for Gallagher in Savannah will be comedian and film and television actor Artie Fletcher, author of the book “Comedy on the Road.” He is best known for his role as Stan on “Law & Order.”

“I’ve had a pretty good career,” Fletcher says. “I’ve been on many TV shows and done 14 national commercials.”

Fletcher wrote his book to describe life “as seen through a comic’s bloodshot eyes.”

“My whole idea is to show people what we go through as actors and comedians — the sacrifices, missing your kids’ plays, the marriages, the real life. They don’t see the travel, the script study, the need to get trained properly.”

Fletcher started his career early.

“From grade school on, I was playing in bands,” he says. “I was always a prankster.”

But Fletcher seldom got in trouble.

“I was a jock, a really good basketball player,” he says. “I was lucky I got scholarships.

“It’s just hard work, that’s all it is. Today, I speak at schools and colleges to motivate kids and tell them the real deal.”

Fletcher’s big break came from an iconic comedienne.

“I worked for Joan Rivers as her tour manager and started opening for her,” he says. “She’s the one who really pushed me.

“I would go out and introduce the comics who opened for her. I’d be out there for two minutes, then five minutes, then 10 minutes. She’d say, ‘You can do this, we don’t need an opening act.’”

When Fletcher set out on his own, he opened for such acts as Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Perry Como, Johnny Cash and the Oak Ridge Boys.

Being on “Law and Order” led Fletcher to work on “Law and Order SVU” and other dramas.

“I was hanging out with Jerry Orbach and Sam Waterston,” Fletcher says. “Here I am, auditioning for Sidney Lumet.

“On ‘Third Watch,’ I got to work with Roy Scheider, who played a Russian mob boss. Those are moments I’ll always cherish. Those are things you don’t forget.”

Working and touring with Gallagher is also a highlight for Fletcher.

“Gallagher and I were sitting in a car together in Rochester, N.Y.,” Fletcher says. “I came up with the concept of three comics interacting together on stage.”

Several comedians, including Rain Pryor, Bob Nelson and Jimmy Walker, did the tour. When Fletcher looked for a replacement, he got a surprise.

“Gallagher said, ‘I’ll do it,’” Fletcher says. “I was shocked. He’s sold out arenas on his own.

“We’ve been together for four years. We don’t do a lot of clubs; we do theaters, and we don’t do 200-seaters.”

That makes the stop in Savannah rather rare. Because the venue is smaller than usual, Gallagher will adjust accordingly.

“He’ll do a mini smash,” Fletcher says. “… Fans come out of the woodwork. We’re in the lobby taking pictures with fans. That’s a Gallagher thing.”

IF YOU GO

What: Gallagher: The Last Smash Tour with Artie Fletcher

When: 8 p.m. Oct. 14

Where: Bay Street Theatre, 1 Jefferson St.

Cost: $25 or $35 VIP

Info: 314-503-9005, savannahcomedyrevue.com

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